We had a long, hot summer in Portland this year, and that meant two things: many sweltering nights without a/c, and a bumper crop of tomatoes. But I will readily admit the former is a small price to pay for the latter, which is always a very good problem to have.
Thankfully, most of our tomatoes were ripe and ready when the weather had simmered down a bit, which meant I could turn on the oven and roast whichever specimens weren’t destined for capreses, panzanellas or BLTs.
In years past I’ve roasted the tomatoes on a sheet pan with wedges of onion, whole cloves of garlic and a generous drizzle of olive oil, plus salt and pepper. Then I puree the whole mess into an instant tomato sauce and tuck ziptop bags of it in the freezer.
This year I did things a little differently after spotting a recipe for Slow-Roasted Stuffed Tomatoes in “The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen” by Paula Wolfert.
I had recently joined a cookbook club, and the subject that month was any cookbook by the esteemed author. But of course it was the day of the dinner, I hadn’t yet decided what to make, and almost all the recipes in the book needed to be started a day (or more!) in advance. Except the tomatoes — and I just so happened to have plenty on hand. Slow Roasted Stuffed Tomatoes it is!
I followed the recipe and cut them in half, scooped out the seeds, sprinkled the insides with salt and let them drain on paper towels for 30 minutes. Then I arranged the tomatoes on a sheet pan, placed it in the 300-degree oven, and set the timer for 2 1/2 hours. I pictured them slowly softening into a concentrated shell to hold the stuffing of bread crumbs, parsley and garlic, making for a beautiful appetizer or side dish to present to my fellow club members.
But there’s a reason why cookbook authors exhort their readers to use cooking times as a guideline, not gospel: Every oven is different. You’d think I would have known better than to leave the house. But two hours was a long time, and I had things to do, so I left. And when the timer went off my husband dutifully removed the sheet pan from the oven … and I came home to find not soft cups of tomato lusciousness, but discs of tomato leather.
Crap! I had less than an hour before I had to leave for the gathering. Clearly I wouldn’t be stuffing these babies. But I couldn’t show up empty handed. I realized I may not be able to faithfully recreate the recipe as promised, but I could use it to come up with something in the same spirit.
So I dumped the dried tomatoes in the food processor, along with original stuffing ingredients and a little balsamic for depth, and pulsed them into a chunky topping for bruschetta. Thankfully it was a hit, bursting with luscious late-summer tomato flavor, and far more interesting than the usual topping of diced fresh tomatoes.
The bruschetta were a perfect starter for a Mediterranean feast that included lamb tagine, Tunisian couscous, kibbeh, shredded beet salad, and a supremely tipsy prune and armagnac ice cream.
And the club was such a fun way to get to know more of Wolfert’s recipes without having to cook them all myself (they are notoriously labor intensive, after all). And as we sat in host Diane Morgan’s back yard, eating and swapping stories that warm late-summer night, I was already looking forward to the next meeting.
Since then I’ve slow-roasted tomatoes a few more times, skipping the seeding and salting step, and cooking them just long enough to evaporate the juices and concentrate the flavor without going all the way to dried. The resulting tomato goodness has become my new favorite condiment. Sometimes it pays to make mistakes.
Slow-Roasted Tomato Compote
Makes about 3 cups
This is more a method than a recipe. Don’t worry about amounts, just be sure to bathe the tomatoes in olive oil before roasting and give them plenty of space on the baking sheet. Serve the compote as a condiment for sandwiches, or on rustic toasted bread slathered with goat cheese, fresh ricotta or hummus.
2 pounds small slicing tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving
Freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh or dried herbs, such as thyme, basil, marjoram or rosemary
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the tomatoes into quarters (or in half for cherry tomatoes). Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Generously sprinkle with salt, pepper and herbs.
Roast tomatoes for 1 to 11/2 hours, or until soft, collapsed and juices are nearly evaporated. Coarsely chop or pulse in a food processor, then transfer to a bowl. Pour in enough olive oil to make a consistency like chunky preserves or compote. Taste and add more salt, pepper, fresh herbs, or balsamic vinegar if desired.
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